Memoirs and Lessons of a Fledgling Competitor
I love training. It’s like a religious experience: my focus locks on the barbell and I begin the journey of embodying poise and power. I have my favourite platform, a barbell which seems to remember my hands, and the comforting familiarity of my gym fosters a nonchalant certainty in my mind. I walk around my bar to show respect, set my gaze forwards and screw the balls of my feet into the platform one at a time. I lower into a squat and bond my hands with the knurling of the barbell, I look at the floor whilst I actively control my breathing and enter a mindful zone of preparation…and suddenly the slow process takes a turn of quick succession…
..I raise my chin
…I narrow my broad gaze into a piercing glare at the wall ahead
…. I propel my hips up
…..I load my hamstrings
……I set my upper body with proud composure
…….My mouth opens
……..The segments of my body tighten in unison
THEN I unleash my pent-up energy with candor and intensity producing a fluent, resolute lift.
So why was it that the allure and desire I felt in training didn’t translate to the same yearning in my bones to compete? If you told me a reason I should compete in weightlifting I’d give you 10 reasons why I shouldn’t. I’d been grappling with understanding the underlying insecurities at play which made me feel as though I couldn’t progress in the sport and to address them I could no longer avoid them – better off out of mind and out of sight, right?
- Off the competition platform my stagnant numbers were safe
- There was no judgement from other coaches or weightlifters
- There was no need to make sure I made weight
- I couldn’t bomb out
- I wouldn’t come last
- My lack of progress would be hidden from a wider audience
- You’re just not good enough
- I need to be more consistent first
- What if I panic, my anxiety won’t allow me to
- And I also wouldn’t be sent broke from the NSW registration fee (lol)
I’m a believer that what we do needs to amount to some form of happiness or a greater goal and personal growth. In recognising my actions and thoughts towards weightlifting weren’t congruent with my general life mentality – what had posed as an unshakable fear suddenly became alluring. Generally I lust for challenges. When they crop up a tide washes over me and I’m riddled with fierceness and potent concentration…it was time to get hungry. I purposefully drew a mental blank in my mind when I pondered the ‘what if’s’ of competition and simply gave myself no choice but to do it.
Doing things by halves never makes for a compelling experience so I dove in the deep end by competing for the first time at State Championships. I was a tiny little fish amongst the crowd I’d be sharing the platform with which in a sense forced me to dissociate my emotions from the numbers I’d be hitting on the platform, something I’d struggled to do in the past. During warm up I found it hard to deter my mind from paying attention from external happenings and found myself fretting over what I saw to be imminent disappointment after I missed my opening snatch attempt.
As I was lifting the lightest I had to perform all of my lifts in succession with only two minutes to prepare or rest between attempts.
…….I was hung up on the numbers I wanted to hit but didn’t.
……I lost my snatches backwards.
…..I pressed out a jerk.
….I felt insecure.
…BUT despite this I’d created a baseline for myself to improve upon and I found myself aching to get back out there and better myself. There were no more blurred lines. I experienced a fortuitous shift of mind in which I clearly saw this was my current condition, current competition total and I had the skills, power, drive, support and means to improve it.
After cultivating my desire to surpass my previous efforts I found myself beating my totals by up to 11kg in some comps. I developed the guts to back up my passion, and in return in just 6 months of competing I’ve managed to bring my lifts up by nearly 10kg each compared to what I was struggling to hit consistently.
Now I find myself placing more importance on my competition total than my PRs in training – training PRs (thought exciting and a great achievement) present themselves as an indication of what I can do. What I perform on the competition platform is the unique and quantified expression of craftsmanship in training. I’d go so far as to say that you’re missing out on the fulfillment and essence of the sport if you choose to play it safe in your training ground. I’ll impart a little insight I only gained after challenging myself to put myself on the line in competitions:
- Focus on yourself. You need to be ready to pick up the barbell, watching others only deters your focus and increases the potential of generating excessive nervous energy.
- Dissociate your feelings from your performance on the day. Approach how things are panning out objectively and you’ll be less likely to crumble at the clutches of ‘bitchitis’ (Liao, Jayawardene, Mifsud & Rajeevan., 2017).
- Your coach will figure out what you need to do to place as well as you can-it’s your job as the athlete to carry out the task and make it happen. If they say ‘jump’ don’t ask how high, simply do it.
- Your coach cares about you and wants you to do well. They will play the field to help you perform and place as best as you can…trust them! And if you don’t trust them, have a conversation to find out what can be changed.
- Educate yourself on how competitions work. This will remove some stress which comes about from the parts of the sport you may not understand, and it may also help you to connect with the sport in a way that increases your level of respect and drive to perform well on competition day.
- Network/volunteer. If you plan to start competing you’ll probably meet some coaches, officials and competitors many times each year. I really like this about competing and it adds to the atmosphere when you know a few faces. Take the time to say hello, figure out where they’re from and perhaps ask some questions. Volunteering for things such as loading plates during a session will not only teach you a new skill but also help you to understand the workings of the sport (you’ll also forever after appreciate the people who load your barbells!!!).
- You get to develop a style as an athlete. This part is really cool. You learn how you operate under stressful and sometimes unpredictable conditions, as no two comps are the same. You begin to develop and connect with a process, a way of thinking and conducting yourself, mentally preparing and approaching the bar, even exiting the platform.
- Eat and fill out your weight class. Weight is your friend if you plan to lift well and get strong.
The crux? Competitions are an integral part of athlete development (elite or not) which inspire confidence and drive through a unique learning experience amounting to simply BE BETTER. My departing wisdom…consider the price of inaction to be far greater than the cost of making a mistake.
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